Like many of the other women, Toma spoke candidly about the events that led her to enroll in NEF UK’s Advancing Gender Equality and the Rights of Survivors of Gender-Based Violence (AGERS-GBV) program. “My life has been hard,” she recalls. “I suffered for a long time.”
Toma, a 40-year-old single mother to a young boy, endured abuse from her husband for more than a decade before escaping and seeking refuge in her parents’ home with her son.
Domestic violence against women is commonplace in Armenia, where 59 percent of women report being subjected to physical, psychological, or sexual violence at the hands of their domestic partners. It is only fairly recently that this widespread issue has entered public discourse as a real and growing problem.
To make matters more difficult, women are not encouraged to work independently and earn an income. Ruzanna Torozyan, director of the Goris Women’s Development Resource Center in Armenia, said, “Men are usually not comfortable with their wives entering the workforce due to social norms that discourage female independence. As a result, the social burden of raising a family falls mostly to women—many of whom struggle to meet household expenses independently from male support.”
Without a job and income to support her son, Toma sought psychological and legal support from the Women’s Support Center (WSC) in Yerevan on the advice of a friend. There, Toma heard about NEF UK’s European Union-funded AGERS-GBV program, which equips survivors with the knowledge, skills, and support structures they need to start their own small businesses or find sustained employment.
“I knew self-employment was better suited to my situation, but I didn’t know how to make it a reality,” Toma explained.
Toma saw the program as an opportunity to become self-reliant, and applied to enrol in the business development component. Through the trainings, she was taught the skills needed to plan, organize, and manage a small business.
“For years, I considered opening up my own shoe business, but the project helped me to transform my idea into action. The other women in the program and I welcomed the opportunity to work with the enterprise development team, and appreciated their inclusive and interactive approach to training.”
Working with the program's business development trainer, Toma developed a viable business plan and finance strategy that was approved by a selection committee. With a project-supported grant secured, Toma purchased materials for 40 shoes, which she quickly transformed into 16 pairs of women’s shoes just in time for the Armenian winter. Toma plans to use her remaining materials to get a head start on a spring line of shoes.
“I love my job. It provides me with the flexibility I need to make an economically sustainable living for my son and me. I feel at peace, and I am highly motivated to move ahead with my plans for the future—whateverI decide those will be.’’
NEF UK’s program was internationally recognized by the European Training Foundation (ETF) with a certificate of excellence for demonstrating good practice in implementing trainings for women’s entrepreneurship. ETF created a video to highlight the programs success in developing economic opportunities for survivors of gender-based and domestic violence. Click here to watch.
To date, 161 women survivors across Yerevan and Lori and Syunik regions have signed up to participate in the business development stream and 131 of those women have developed business plans. Fifty-one women have already received funding to support their small businesses and the remaining 80 women will receive funding in the near future. Additionally, 116 women have enrolled in the employment development trainings where they are learning valuable skills needed to meet employer qualifications.
Thank you for your continued support making stories like Toma's possible!
For more information, visit: www.neareast.org
NEF-UK’s AGERS-GBV project is funded by the European Union and implemented in partnership with Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). For more information, please contact: Arpine Baghdoyan (+374 98022475; email@example.com)
 Some names have been changed in this publication to protect the privacy and security of the individuals involved.
As the Syrian crisis enters its fifth year, millions of refugees continue to seek safety and a better future for their families in Jordan and Lebanon. Jordan hosts more than 600,000 Syrian refugees and in Lebanon, Syrian refugees now constitute 25 percent of the population.
Out of necessity, women in many conflict and post-conflict areas find themselves as earners for the first time in order to support their families.
Take Fattoum, a 35-year-old woman who fled Syria with her family to Lebanon. “We left everything behind, we came here with nothing.” Her husband does not have a job, and together they have four children—one with cancer.
“Putting a meal on the table is a continuous challenge, the amount of money we spend on rent and medicine leaves us almost nothing for food.”
With NEF’s help, Fattoum is receiving training in small home-based business development and urban agriculture so that she can grow fruits and vegetables at home.
“I am an illiterate Syrian refugee woman. This program empowers me as a woman to become more productive and self-reliant. Our living situation is in dire need of such projects to lift us out of the extremely bad situations we are facing.”
“Growing vegetables at home will help us save some money that can be spent on other things like medicine. NEF’s trainings will help me stand on my feet.”
Women’s participation in the labor market continues to be necessary for helping reduce poverty and drive the economy as a whole. NEF assists Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and vulnerable members of their host communities, to achieve self-reliance through urban agriculture, small business development trainings, peer support networks, and savings and loan associations.
“NEF’s trainings provide us with a platform to meet new Syrian and Lebanese woman. The program gives us hope that we can provide a better life for our family.”
With diminishing humanitarian aid, we need your support now more than ever. Thank you for your continued support of the Near East Foundation, and for helping women like Fattoum and her family find safe and sustainable solutions to achieve food and financial security!
In partnership with the Gegharkunik Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) and four community-based organizations (CBOs), NEF has made great strides in improving the protection, gender equality, agency, and economic independence for women survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) in Armenia. NEF’s work to empower survivors of GBV is becoming increasingly evident in the lives of our beneficiaries.
In a recent interview, Mary—a wife and mother who lives in Syunik Province—spoke to us about her own personal transformation as a result of participating in NEF’s project. For many years Mary was subjected to psychological and economic abuse, lacking economic and decision-making power in the household. She regretted not working and earning money after she married.
“It was my dream to be a hairdresser and earn money for myself,” she recalled. “My husband and his mother always thought it would be best if I focused my efforts on household chores alone. I eventually began to believe them, but now I see that if a woman stays at home all day, her relationships, professional networks, and worldviews will become limited even if she has skills or knowledge to offer. I am glad I chose to become involved in this programme, and develop my own business plan. Soon I will be able to get equipment and materials through the support of the project, which will enable me to pursue what I love while contributing to my family’s budget.”
NEF’s program, currently funded by the European Union, in Armenia equips survivors like Mary with the knowledge, skills, and support structures needed to start their own business or find sustained employment. Thus far, 59 women survivors across Yerevan and the Lori and Syunik regions have signed up to participate in the business development stream. Forty-eight have developed business plans and will receive support to start their small businesses in the near future. Fifty-seven women are enrolled in the employment development stream and will learn valuable skills needed to meet employer qualifications. Most of the women also receive vocational training in preparation for their new profession.
“My decision to participate has also gradually begun to change my family's view of me,” Mary explained. “They are starting to believe in my abilities and capacity to make decisions—to be more than just a housewife. This is a significant achievement for me. I don’t remember the last time I felt I could initiate something and succeed.’’
Thank you for continuing to support our work in Armenia—helping to make stories like Mary’s the rule and not the exception!
The names have been changed in this publication to protect the privacy and security of the individuals involved.